Analysis  

 

Football in London, from A to Z: Your guide to Steelers-Vikings

LONDON -- The Minnesota Vikings have been here since Tuesday, the Pittsburgh Steelers arrive early Friday morning, and preparations have been long underway for this, the seventh regular-season NFL game in England.

Here's a quick primer on this American Football experience in Britain:

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2013 International Series

Take a look at photos of the Steelers and Vikings from across the pond.

A is for Ambassadors, for the game. A full-time franchise in London still might be a logistical nightmare, but there reportedly have been negotiations to stage three games here next year. It's on the Steelers and Vikings to help keep up interest in American football.

B is for Bangers and Mash, the meal Vikings defensive end Jared Allen said he's most looking forward to this week.

C is for Chuffed, which means really excited. Usage: "I'm chuffed about this match!"

D is for Defence, as the British spell it. The Vikings play a 4-3, with one of the game's best defensive ends (Allen). The Steelers play a 3-4, with one of the game's iconic safeties (Troy Polamalu). And a random polling of Brits produced one answer as to what they like most about American football: the hitting.

E is for Execute, a word the Vikings and Steelers both have used ad nauseum -- in conjunction with the word "better."

F is for an F, or the grade the Steelers' offense gets so far. Sorry, but nothing can pretty up a performance that's produced more than twice as many turnovers (nine) as touchdowns (four).

G is for Gigi, the Vikings' head chef. She made the trip in May to taste the food at the two hotels the team is storming, and she's here overseeing all the food prep. Apparently fried chicken in the UK is not prepared quite like fried chicken in Minnesota. (Each meal does, however, feature one British item.)

H is for Home Team. That's the Vikings, and so yes, that famous Viking horn (another H!) will be here.

I is for Images. They're everywhere. A massive Ben Roethlisberger and an equally massive Adrian Peterson are affixed to multiple stories of Wembley. Other players are on the concrete pillars leading into the stadium. If Antonio Brown was unrecognizable before, he's not now.

J is for Jerseys. Make sure to note the crowd Sunday: There probably will be jerseys of all 32 teams dotted in the stands. (The Vikings did play another home game that sort of recalls this: In 2010, the Metrodome roof collapsed under the weight of excessive snow, forcing the Vikings and Giants to play on a Monday night in Detroit.)

K is for Kicking. All the English schoolchildren do it and do it well. And perhaps because of the other football, the Vikings' punter (Jeff Locke) and kicker (Blair Walsh) both fielded interview requests from British media outlets after the team's first practice here.

L is for Le'Veon Bell, perhaps the Steelers' last hope for a run game. They've now gone nine consecutive regular-season games without rushing for 100 yards as a team, and Bell, their injury-wracked second-round draft pick, will play in his first NFL regular-season game Sunday. Of course, Bell's week opened with Roethlisberger questioning the rookie's work ethic in a roundabout sort of way.

"You can't get a read on him," Roethlisberger said on a Pittsburgh radio station. "One day, he's practicing, one day, he's not; one day, he's going hard, the next day, he's not. I wish I could.

"If he was a guy like Heath Miller that you knew was busting his butt every day to get back there ... Le'Veon is a rookie, I don't know him quite well enough yet."

M is for Match, which is all anyone here keeps calling this game. (Frankly, it does sound better.)

N is for Now or Never. See O.

O is for Oh-and-three, the record of both the Vikings and Steelers. Minnesota GM Rick Spielman said Wednesday that Pittsburgh is "desperate," just like his team. And although the two teams, on both sides of the pond, are avoiding the dreaded "must-win" phraseology, Sunday is a must-win.

P is for Play 60, the NFL's health and fitness campaign that came to the grounds outside Wembley Stadium on Tuesday. The Vikings landed off a red-eye flight and bused straight to some 100 kids, pulled from local elementary schools. They did run-and-catch drills, played a little situational football, and Peterson, Minnesota's star running back, threw a few touchdown passes.

Q is for the Queen. No member of the Royal Family has ever attended one of these American football matches. But before the 6:06 p.m. (local) kickoff and after the U.S. National Anthem, "God Save the Queen" will be played at Wembley Stadium.

R is for the Rooney Rule. Proposed by the Steelers' venerable owner, Dan Rooney, the program has ensured every head-coach opening is accompanied by at least one interview with a minority candidate. There is talk of implementing a similar rule in the Premier League here. Vikings coach Leslie Frazier, one of the two African-American head coaches in this game, said he didn't know enough about soccer to comment, but in his experience, the Rooney Rule gave him a lot more opportunities than he otherwise would've had.

S is for Steeler Nation. Steelers fans show up in every stadium in America, they and are expected in droves here; even the Vikings were ruing the luck of playing the NFL's best travelers in a purported home game.

T is for Turnovers. Both teams are plagued by them. The Steelers had five in their last game, the Vikings had three, and combined, the teams have 19 on the season. (On the flip side, the Vikings' defense has forced 10 turnovers. The Steelers' defense? Zero.)

U is for the Underground. It incorporates the world's oldest underground railway and has 270 stations, and 2013 is its 150th year of operations.

V is for Victory, for the NFL. It took less than three weeks for the league to sell out two-game sets for this series at Wembley -- this one Sunday and the one Oct. 27 pitting the San Francisco 49ers against the Jacksonville Jaguars. A spokesman at the local NFL ticket office said that when single-game tickets went on sale for the Steelers-Vikings game, they sold out in TWO DAYS.

W is for Wembley. Come on, this one's too easy to pass up. Rebuilt on the grounds of the original Wembley (b. 1923) in 2007, this one features a 1,040-foot steel arch, cost 798 million pounds and is the second-largest stadium in all of Europe.


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X is for X's and O's, of which the locals apparently are understanding more and more of. NFL staff was helping some local journalists understand the basics of American football, but Michael Signora, the NFL's vice president of football communications, said the questions posed to the Vikings this year showed a far greater knowledge of the game than the queries asked in 2007, when the first regular-season game was played here.

Y is for Yankees. There won't be all that many come Sunday. The NFL says many, many more tickets go to natives than they do expats or American travelers. Many, as in 95 percent.

Z is for Zygi Wilf, the Vikings' principal owner. His brother, Mark, has been here all week, and he said the England trip was a no-brainer for the Wilfs. Mark brought the mayors of St. Paul and Minneapolis, used his news conference to talk about the 30 English companies with operations in Minnesota (and who employ, he said, 15,000 people) and said this game was an opportunity to grow business and tourism.

Follow Aditi Kinkhabwala on Twitter @AKinkhabwala.

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